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11 Tips for Positive Elementary Music Classroom Management

Effective classroom management in elementary music is crucial for positive student experiences. See these tips for a calm structured classroom.

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You are the teacher and you are in charge. This mindset is non-negotiable. It’s essential to create a positive learning environment in the music classroom and to foster constructive student engagement and collaboration. Students want and need a structured setting with a calm, positive, safe atmosphere and a strong, supportive teacher.

These 11 tips can help you manage your classroom in an effective and enjoyable manner.

smiling students playing a xylophone and other rhythm instruments

1. Establish Positive Relationships

Smile, greet, and nod to each student as they enter your classroom. Students who feel valued, recognized, and respected do not cause discipline problems. Greet students at the door and begin class immediately with transition activities that lead them straight to their seats.

Your transition activity should capture students’ attention and set a positive tone for each class. For more on how to use FUN and FOCUSED transition activities and social stories to ease transitions, take a peek at this post –  10 Tips to Integrate Music Reading into Every Elementary Music Class.

2. Teach, Post, and Practice Music Classroom Rules and Procedures

I know you have heard this before, but teaching and posting your music class rules is the foundation of classroom management. Students cannot follow the rules if they don’t know the rules. Keep your rules simple, broad, and direct with no more than 5 rules.

My rules have changed and evolved over time, but I have used the following rules successfully for several years.

  • Follow the directions the first time.
  • KAFOOTY. (Keep all hands, feet, and other objects to yourself.)
  • Be nice. Respect others.
  • Do your best.

Practicing Rules Can Be Fun

Consider setting your classroom rules to rhythm patterns. You will be teaching and reviewing your rules throughout the year so incorporating music skills is a natural fit.

Create body percussion and practice patterns until students have the rules and movements memorized. Then, when necessary use your body percussion movements to silently prompt positive behaviors. This can serve as an effective simple reminder while continuing with class activities.

Consider adding rhythm instruments as yet another way to practice music rules. And, review your classroom rules whenever necessary. After winter break or other school breaks, it’s especially important to review classroom rules

See 4 Fun Ways to Teach Elementary Music Classroom Rules for more information and videos of our rhythm rules in action.

Model and Practice Classroom Procedures

Create and teach procedures for EVERYTHING you do in class. This includes the way students enter your classroom. How to line up at the end of class. How to walk to an instrument. How to get pencils and paper, and anything else students will do in your classroom.

Demonstrate those procedures by modeling. Show students what to do. Then ask students to describe what and how you did the task. Ask one student to model the correct way to do the task providing positive corrections if necessary. Finally, ask the entire class to practice the procedure.

You’ll find a more detailed description of interactive modeling and how to reinforce classroom routines in the book Responsive Classroom for Music, Art, PE, and other Special Areas by Responsive Classroom. I highly recommend this book.

3. Assigned Spots are a MUST

Whether you have students sit on the floor or in chairs, having their own assigned spot keeps students from pushing and showing and jocking for positions. Seat students for success. Put wiggly kids, students who often cause distractions, or students who simply need more space on the edges and/or the back row.

Separate students who typically misbehave when they’re together.

4. Assign Student Partners

Pair students as much as possible with higher and lower academic levels. This helps both partners. The higher achieving student benefits from “teaching” and helping their partner and the lower achieving student benefits from the extra help and leadership of their partner.

As much as possible pair students as boy and girl partners. Boys and girls often have different learning styles and everyone benefits by approaching tasks from different viewpoints.

5. Using Classroom Instruments

Demonstrate the proper way to play an instrument. When a student intentionally misuses an instrument or plays out of turn take away the instrument the FIRST time they act out. In my classroom, rule 1 is “Follow directions the first time.” When you give students more and more chances it encourages misbehaviors.

Create ways students can participate without an instrument. Consider the following ideas.

  • Body Percussion. Students create body percussion similar to the way the instrument would be played.
  • Paper Xylophones. Print a xylophone template on heavy card stock and then laminate it. Students “play” the paper xylophone template using their fingers as mallets. Store templates so they’re immediately available.
  • Finger Mallets. Or, simply take the student’s mallets and they can “play” their barred instruments with their fingers.

Always give students a way to “earn” their instrument back or earn their way back into a class activity. Make sure they know that when they participate appropriately on their “alternate instrument” for a certain amount of time, they may once again play their instrument.

If a student loses their instrument twice in one class period, that’s it. They can earn it back for the next music day. Don’t allow students to turn misbehavior into a game.

6. Enforce Rules Consistently

Following the rules is NOT optional. And NO means NO, not sometimes, not it’s okay today because you’re exhausted, not it’s okay for one student and not another. It means misbehavior is NEVER okay for anyone. Be consistent in the way you reinforce your classroom rules.

Use a matter-of-fact voice and simple direct vocabulary. NEVER raise your voice or show frustration. Maintaining a positive classroom environment is part of your job. Use natural consequences that are appropriate for the misbehavior.

Document behaviors if they are persistent or if you’re looking for patterns. Consider creating a Google Form for easy entry and retrieval of information. (Use only secure school-owned platforms. Never use your personal Google account for school documentation.) Talk to your administrator before beginning such documentation.

7. Do NOT argue with students. 

Don’t get sucked in. You don’t have to respond to everything a student says. Address behaviors in a positive manner with the least possible words. Whenever possible, try to tell students the right thing to do instead of what not to do. 

Positive Catchphrases
  • Do this
  • Voices off
  • Quiet voices
  • Hands in your lap
  • Walk

Teach your students some simple sign language or use signals so you don’t have to use any words at all. The following simple signs are easy to understand.

Simple Signs or Signals
  • Stand up
  • Sit down
  • Come here
  • Follow me
  • Stop

When you must address the behavior directly consider the following responses, 

Redirection Catchphrases
  • Oops, that’s what I say when I make a mistake.
  • That’s not safe.
  • That’s not okay.
  • That’s NOT why we’re here.
  • We’re here to learn.

Broken Record Technique

If the student persists in trying to draw you into an argument use these phrases as redirects.

  • I do not argue with students.
  • Teachers are in charge.

Follow up immediately with what they should be doing. Keep your voice calm and quiet, but firm. Use the broken record technique as you repeat the simple directions and give the student time to de-escalate and comply.

You’re in charge. Do NOT let a student wear you down.

8. Do NOT Allow Students to Derail Class

Keep class going if at all possible. Reward ALL students who are doing the right thing and focus on positive behaviors, not on the misbehaviors.

The next thing I’m going to say may not be popular but I recommend you take rewards away (proportionally) if students do not continue to behave appropriately. Hear me out on this. 

It’s our job to prepare students for life in the real world so let’s use a real-world example. You work VERY hard all week at your teaching job. On Friday, you can’t wait to get home and get ready for a long-awaited get-together with friends. You don’t even notice you’re speeding through the neighboring school zone until the lights of a police car come on behind you and you know. You’re going to get a fine. A BIG fine. This does not negate all of the good work you did this week but you were speeding and you are going to be penalized. You are going to lose a BIG chunk of your hard-earned dollars.

Many of the bulldog bucks, eagle dollars, and the other artificial rewards we shower on children are meaningless if they do not lose them occasionally. When I have taken back a reward I have given a student, I place it on the corner of the piano and say, “When you ______ (fill in the appropriate behavior) you may earn this back.”

Students value the reward much more if they know they must maintain appropriate behavior to keep it. You do need to follow your school’s behavior policies. But, if those policies are not working, it may be time to talk about some changes.

Follow your school’s behavior plan and when necessary, call for assistance.

9. Start EVERY class fresh. NEVER hold a grudge toward a student.

Don’t take misbehaviors personally. It’s not about you. But you can’t ALLOW misbehaviors to stifle learning and intimidate and disturb other students.

Have a sense of humor. Some things just don’t have to become a big deal if we don’t let them. Redirect silly behavior with a smile on your face and immediately go on. But don’t use sarcasm. Sarcasm has no place in a positive classroom management system. Elementary-age students don’t understand sarcasm and it’s often at the expense of another.

10. Keep Class Moving with Short, Succinct Directions

There is no reason to give long detailed instructions. Your students will forget most of what you said before you start the activity anyway. If your students are not actively engaged you will lose their attention.

Demonstrate, use short direct commands, and begin activities as soon as possible.

Use these short catchphrases.

  • Do this.
  • Echo me.
  • Follow me.
  • My turn.
  • Your turn.

See this post for more – Talk Less, Teach More Music.

11. If You’re Struggling, Ask for Help

Take time to observe other teachers who are successfully teaching some of your difficult students. What are they doing that you could implement in your classroom? Find a mentor and practice working through specific behaviors and situations you’re encountering. 

Talk to your administrator and ask for help.

Many Factors Affect Music Classroom Management

The way you design and deliver your lessons has a profound effect on behaviors and classroom management. See this post for tips on How to Create Lessons for Positive Elementary Music Classroom Management.

The physical setup of your classroom also affects student behaviors. Ensure you have established traffic patterns for coming in and out of the classroom. Develop procedures for getting supplies, choosing instruments, moving to the story corner, etc. Teach and enforce those procedures.


No one is happy and no one is learning in a chaotic classroom. Use these tips and techniques to create an effective system of elementary music classroom management and a positive learning environment that is calm, positive, and safe. 

You are the teacher and you are in charge.  

📚 Two Books I Highly Recommend

Ask your administrator to purchase these books for you or check your local public library. If they don’t have these titles on the shelf, they should be able to get them through interlibrary loan.

Last update on 2024-02-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers

Last update on 2024-02-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Meet the Author

Terri Lloyd is a former elementary music teacher with over 25 years of experience. She holds a Bachelor of Music, a Master of Science in Education, and a Technology Certificate in Instructional Design.

She is currently active in music education through blogging, workshops, and curriculum development. She serves on the music staff at her church and volunteers for an after-school children’s program. Terri is an active musician in the community, performing in a local Big Band, pit orchestras, and various events.

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